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light Nubian

[This article is part of a series.  Part one is here.]

So, you’re ready to bring home your first herd of dairy goats!

Before you buy any particular goats, decide whether you want registered goats or not.  The cheapest goats you’ll be able to find are unregistered animals.

So, this is a major advantage if your decision is completely based on price.  Two of our first three goats were unregistered, and we bought the registered one without regard for her registration.  Unregistered goats can still be good goats—often unregistered goats had registered grandparents or even registered parents, so they may still have good genetics.  Even good goats that are unregistered will cost less than good goats that are registered.

The main disadvantage of purchasing unregistered goats is that you have no idea what you’re buying.  As someone new to dairy goats, you’re at a disadvantage here, because you’re unfamiliar with breed standards, and you may not recognize how poorly a particular goat fits the breed standard.

We had this experience with our first goat: we purchased her believing she was an unregistered Nubian, but actually she couldn’t have been more than ½ Nubian, if that.  We didn’t know if the other ½ was even from a dairy breed.  She had horns when we got her (because we didn’t know better), and she didn’t get pregnant the first year we tried to breed her, so we never got any milk from her.  We tried to sell her for $100, but even fully grown and ready-to-breed, a non-purebred goat with horns isn’t worth it.  So instead of feeding her for another season and hoping she would get pregnant, and hoping she would be a good producer, we gave up and sent her to slaughter with this year’s bull calf.  It was a tremendous waste.

You can learn from our mistakes.

We only purchase registered goats now, because:

  1. We know what we’re getting.  They will be the correct breed, and by looking at their pedigrees, we know if they have really good milking lines or not.
  2. When we breed them every year, their kids will sell for more, since they will also be registered.
  3. The goats are all tattooed, so theoretically if you needed to identify your goat, you would be able to.
  4. You can be deliberate about breeding decisions and increase the quality of your herd; with unregistered goats, it’s always a shot in the dark.
  5. We can contact previous owners, or owners of the animal’s parents to ask questions about specific issues.  (This is all untraceable for unregistered goats.)
  6. Since registered goats are all about improving the breed, they tend to be much better goats, with higher production, and better teats, etc.

When you’re looking for goats, another consideration is disease.  If possible, choose individual goats from a “CAE/CL free herd.”  CAE and CL are the two main goat diseases that people test for.  Larger herds usually test at least every other year.  In any case, look for healthy animals.

The cheapest way to begin with good dairy goats is to get a doeling (a young female goat).  This is because the people selling her don’t know what her quality will be.  She should have been disbudded (de-horned) when a few days old; if the goat already has horns you may not want it.  It’s better if you get her after she’s weaned, but milk replacer or cow milk are ok, and can be fed with a bottle.  Goats are especially friendly if they were bottle-fed.  Choose a friendly goat if possible. Look at the mother (and the father’s mother) to know the quality and value as a milk goat.

The next best way to get good goats is through a herd-dispersal.  Usually if people are only selling one or two goats here and there, they’re culling the herd—they’re getting rid of the bad producers, the goats with bad attitudes, and the old goats, and they’re keeping their good animals.  Occasionally people will sell their entire herd because (for whatever reason) they’re done with goats.  That means that the sale has nothing to do with the quality of the goats—and that’s a good thing.

When you select an adult doe, evaluate her personality.   If she is terrified of people, she still will be terrified of people when you try to milk her!  Look at her hooves: are they neatly trimmed?  Or are they all garbled up like they’ve never been trimmed?  Does she jump right up on milk stand?  Does she come for grain?  When she gets on the milk stand, does she kick if you try to touch her udder?  Look at her udder and teats, and evaluate their shape.  A large udder and teats are usually a good sign. When you milk, how does she do?  If her teats are too small, she may be difficult to milk, but not necessarily, depending on whose hands are milking.  The orifice size makes a big difference.  (We had one goat that had a HUGE udder, and large teats, but her orifices were small.  It took forever to milk her each time, because she had so much milk and so little came out at once!)

If you’re looking for the very best milk goat you can get, she will be registered, and her mom will be a “star milker.”  Not all registered goats are the same: the best ones are “purebred.”  “American” or “Grade” goats are not as good.

I suspect goat prices vary widely depending on location, but here in Utah, for Nubians (since those are the ones I know best), an exceptional registered doe with champion genetics will cost $900 or more.  A pretty good registered doe with some history of good milking lines will cost $350-$550.  A registered doeling will go for about $250-300, but that number varies; you may find a registered doeling for as little as $150, or if you want a doeling with an incredible pedigree you’ll be spending $400-800.  A doe that is not registered will usually cost $125-200, but one that produces a lot of milk may cost $250-300.  An unregistered doeling is usually worth about $75-100.  Bucks are usually cheaper.  A full grown registered buck may sell for anywhere from $150-350, or much more if he is from an exceptional doe.  An unregistered buck is cheaper, about $75-100.  A registered buckling may go for $75-300.  An unregistered buckling will sell for $50-75, if you’re lucky.  Does that are currently milking (especially those that are high producers) sell for more, pregnant does sell for more, and milk goats that are not producing or pregnant sell for less.

I hope this information was helpful!  Let me know if you have any questions about getting started with dairy goats!

2 Responses to “Survival goats, part 5: How to Select Dairy Goats”

  1. Bankie

    How are the goats tattoo’d? Please explain (process and cost). Thanks!

  2. Emily


    I could write a whole post about this, but hopefully this will be enough info to answer your questions:

    Most goats are tattooed on their ears: the right ear has a sequence identifying the herd that the kid was born into, and the left ear has a sequence identifying the individual in that particular herd. LaManchas are tattooed on their tail webbing, because they don’t have ears.

    Depending on where you’re tattooing the animals, you order a livestock tattoo kit to match your needs. For our goats, think we have letters and numbers that are 3/8″ tall, and the tattoo kit is basically a set of pliers that has space for up to four letters or numbers. Some people purchase two tattoo kits so that they can just leave one set with their herd sequence and they don’t have to change the letters and numbers around. We don’t have that large of a herd, so we just have one kit, and I have to swap the letters and numbers. I think a tattoo kit costs about $35-45. The kit usually comes with the special pliers, and some ink (green is best), and maybe some numbers. And then you usually need to pay more for a set of letters and numbers, and I think that costs about $20. You need to make sure the letters and numbers are compatible with the pliers that you bought. I bought my tattoo supplies (brand new) on eBay.

    The best time to tattoo a goat is when it is little. Sometimes the tattoo will fade (especially if it wasn’t done right to begin with), and the goat will need a new tattoo as an adult, but they’re easier to hold down when they’re little, so it’s best to do the tattoo early, and to do it well.

    We have a “kid box” which is a little box that holds goat kids still, so disbudding and tattooing can be done by one person. Otherwise, it is probably a two-person job. Basically, you disinfect the ear with rubbing alcohol, and then you rub a layer of green tattoo ink onto the ear. You test your tattoo on a piece of paper to be sure that it punches in the right order. Then you clamp the tattoo pliers down onto the ear, HARD. Most tattoo kits have an “ear release” piece of rubber that helps the tattoo needles come off of the ear; otherwise, you peel it off. Then, you sprinkle some baking soda onto the tattoo and use an old toothbrush to scrub the ink and baking soda into the tattoo holes. Avoid veins when you do the tattoo, because otherwise the blood can keep the ink from getting into the holes. Then you repeat the process on the other ear. Don’t wipe any excess ink or stuff off, just leave it. It will dry out and wear off.

    We usually share grain with the goat after we tattoo it, to help it feel better. You can also order some herbal stuff to help them with the pain. They forget about it all really quickly, though.

    If the goat has light ears, then you can actually see the tattoo. If the goat has dark ears, you can see it for a while, but over time you can’t. What you do is, put a flashlight behind the goat’s ear, and that illuminates the tattoo.

    I hope this helps. The first time I did tattoos, I watched a few videos on YouTube. It seems kind of intimidating at first, but it really isn’t a big deal. Let me know if you have other questions.

    – Emily